Judas Iscariot’s torment and anguish as he tries to escape from the consequences of his actions were dramatically told in the premiere of new church cantata performed at St. Mary’s Church, Alverstoke. The work depicts his imagined afterlife journey towards repentance and reconciliation, and is based on a poem by Robert Buchanan as adapted by Philip Barker. Singing the role of Judas, beginning from the back of the Church, Stewart Armstrong (tenor) achieved maximum dramatic effect. His powerful and expressive voice soared through St. Mary’s. His despair and agony at what he had done to Christ were totally convincing, Although short it is a complex work, the cantata successfully combined many resources to illustrate the beauty of the music and words. The complexity of the staging using three points within the church (choir stalls, south aisle and west end) was risky but unquestionably was the right decision producing a well-balanced presentation throughout. The dramatic emotional intensity of the choir and soloists was balanced by the excellent use of the children’s chorus who presented a simple and emotionally detached view. The conclusion was serenely and sensitively staged. The body of the church was used to great effect with the tortured Judas Iscariot moving slowly towards release at the altar. The musical language becomes gentler as Judas finds forgiveness when he comes face to face with Christ.
The soloists were outstanding bringing conviction and fine musicianship to their roles. In contrast to the deeply troubled singing of Judas Iscariot, Jane Sherriff (soprano) sang the role of the narrator with great dignity and beauty. David Riley’s fine bass voice was exactly right to convey the stature and authority of Christ. The innovative use of Gareth Morgan (piano), Helen Lancaster (violin) with Roger Bluff (organ) worked extremely well. Under the experienced and persuasive hands of the composer, Paul Pilott, St. Mary’s choir who are always exceptional in church music excelled throughout. The musical collaboration between the music of Paul Pilott and the words of Philip Barker was highly successful and appreciated. We look to their next venture - there are many more ideas in the Bible that inspired them to write Judas Iscariot!